Saturday, February 16, 2013

Are you ready to teach?

For a long while, I've been pondering when the right time is to start teaching.

There is a simple answer of course, which is not until your Sensei or teacher gives you permission.  So let's assume you have that, or are no longer under the tutelage of any one teacher.

So, when are you ready?  When should you start teaching?

In many ways, I think you never really feel ready if you are a true student of Budo.  We are all learners, all students on the path, regardless of our position in any club, dojo or organization.

Who are the best teachers?  

Obviously you must have a significant skill set in order to teach.  You can't teach what you don't know.  There's a bit more to it though.

Some of the best fighters in the world train under coaches who have never fought professionally or have never been champions themselves.  So what qualifies them to teach?

What qualities do they have that set them apart from the rest?  

I think it's their ability to allow others to discover their own skills and abilities. They have to ability to train people, sometimes even to a level that surpasses their own.  

Let's face it, not everyone is meant to teach.  A high level of skill alone does not a teacher make.

So how do you know when you are ready?  

Should you be confident that you are always better than any of your students?
Should you teach when enough people ask you to?
Is there a time when you know, for certain, that you are ready?  Is 'knowing' you are ready a sign that you have too much ego?

It's one thing to train with people and to share information, it quite another to be a Sensei or teacher.  Training requires a certain degree of structure to be valuable. Without this, people just kind or work on 'whatever' and often there is no chance to perfect the techniques or identify your own shortcomings under the watchful eye of another.

I don't have the answers.  

I have been asked to teach by some people and I am in a position where I deliver some training in my professional endeavors.  

Even though I am actually teaching some self defense techniques (at work), the thought of officially teaching outside of work seems a strange thing to me.  While I am confident in my abilities, I am not satisfied with my own skill level.  I never will be, of course, being a life long student of the martial arts.

Again, I don't know what the right time is to officially start teaching.  I would love some feedback from all you teaching out there or from those of you contemplating it.

I look forward to your thoughts.


  1. You do not have the answers, but you have the right questions.

    Regarding the role of your Sensei in your teaching, read Karl Friday's Legacies of the Sword for an explanation of the traditional teaching progression in Japanese martial arts. It is unique among the cultural phenomea of the Japanese.

    There is also the question of 'what sort of teacher.' There is the inspirational teacher that inspires, but they may not provide good technical instruction. There are those who provide good technical instruction but do not inspire.

    When should you teach? When you have an opportunity to teach. If you're honest with yourself you'll recognise if you're rubbish or not. If you're rubbish and you're honest, you can seek to improve your teaching abilities. Unfortunately, the 'best practice' that you can judge yourself against within the martial arts is very mediocre.

    There is a saying, the average teacher asks how am I doing, the great teacher asks how are the students doing. If you think and challenge yourself based on your students, you'll be a half decent teacher.

  2. Hi John,

    Thanks for the feedback. I have been meaning to read Karl Friday's work. I'll have to make that a priority.

    I agree with you that you should teach when you have the opportunity. I've often found I learn just as much as the "student" during the process. I whole heartedly believe that teaching need not just be about being a 'Sensei' per say. Even in that type of role, I should never be stagnant in my own learning. Also, accepting I don't have all the answers is important. It's better not to know something and seek the answers than it is to fake it or make something up. We owe honesty and respect to those who come to us to learn.

    Was there a point where you said to yourself "Hey, I'm ready to run a dojo" or did it just sort of evolve?

    Again, thanks for the comments. Much appreciated.

  3. I started teaching almost seven years ago after moving away from one city to another where I could not find the sort of training I wanted. I started very informally and things grew from there.

    The questions you are asking suggest a level of maturity that I wish everyone had before teaching martial arts. Just be honest in your approach and teach what you know. This is what I do and as I teach what I know grows. I spend a lot of time working on my own training, education and development because I am passionate about martial arts

    Once I got over the idea that I had to be the best in the room, I was comfortable in the role. My ego cannot be damaged in the dojo as it is packed away somewhere beforehand. My students respect me not because I am fast or strong but because I show an interest in their development and I make sure I am ever increasing my knowledge. I am sure you will decide to do the same.

    Just start and let it evolve. You will be great because you care.


    The Monkey Dance blog

  4. The fact that you are prepared to ask these questions suggests that you are ready to start teaching. You do not need to look for external validation from us, which is a bit strange don't you think as we've never met you? If you need external validation then your sensei is the best person to give this but I suspect you don't need it you just need to bite the bullet and give it a go.

    Teaching is an art in itself and like all arts you perfect it with practice. You will make mistakes, you will learn from them and over time you will get better at it - but this process won't happen until you start - the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, as they say. Would your sensei let you plan and run a class with him just watching and then give you feedback? This is how I began, just to get experience in a relatively 'safe' environment. I am now happy to cover classes in my sensei's absence with a degree of confidence. However, I do not feel ready to start my own club or run a seminar. Other people prefer to jump in the deep end and start their own club straight away, depends what sort of person you are I suppose.

    You sound ready for the challenge Journeyman, but only you know for sure. Are you prepared to take the first step?

  5. Hi Sue,

    Thanks for taking the time to make your comments.

    While I truly do respect your opinion and value the feedback of my ‘on-line’ friends, I’m not really looking for validation from anyone. From your comments and John’s, I think what I’m really wondering about is when is the right time to open or run your own school or dojo.

    You are quite right that teaching is an art. Just as there are always opportunities to learn, there are often opportunities to teach. And teaching allows you to learn and learning helps you teach. And so the circle goes…

    Outside of work, I have been lucky enough to have run components of classes and deliver a couple of smaller seminars at an annual training event and that sort of thing. I’ve enjoyed that and enjoy helping newer students. Professionally, I’ve developed and provided training to diverse groups. I thoroughly enjoy the process.

    Even with these positive experiences, the thought of opening my own martial arts school or dojo still seems bizarre to me. I have no problem being the most experienced student in a dojo and assisting with training but the thought of being the ‘Sensei’ is somehow peculiar. To stand up and assert “I’m the guy in charge” seems somehow in conflict with the idea of open minded training and having a beginners mind. Having said that, I do believe that a martial arts training environment does need some structure or the training can break down and the technique can suffer if not under the watchful eye of another.

    Thanks again for the feedback. It’s helped me to clarify my question.

    Now I just have to figure out the answer.


    1. My reference to you needing to seek external validation wasn't intended to be a sleight, it was my rather clumsy way of trying to say that you are probably ready to start teaching, so sorry if it sounded a bit critical, I just put my foot in my mouth sometimes!

      I don't know how long your sensei has been teaching but I suspect he felt like you do now when he first started - a bit unsure whether he was quite up to the job and still feeling a bit inferior to his own sensei. Never the less, he started his club and grew into the role to become the sensei he is now. The same will be true for you - you can't become a better sensei until you become a sensei in the first place - you just need to take that first step - go on, you know you want to ;-)

  6. Ash,

    I was notified remotely of Sue's comments and didn't see yours until I revisited the blog, so I'm answering the comments out of order.

    Thank you for the response and taking the time to share your story. What you are saying makes a of of sense. The key points I took away were to forget about needing to be the best in the room. Respect will come from being interested in the development of the students (and from showing an ongoing desire to improve as well). Wise words. Thanks very much. I'll be checking out your blog.

  7. I read a similar blog post, referenced in (I think) my last post. When to start teaching and some humourous ideas of how to avoid it. I suggest looking at Kim Taylor's blog for the full picture.

    I have to agree with SueC above - asking the question means you are feeling something. It could be obligation to perpetuate the art and your lessons to some small degree. It could be this is another level of training which will teach you myriad lessons that you sense are needed. Or maybe you just want to give it a try. Regardless of the reason, I think the world would be a poorer place without you as a teacher and promoter of the arts.

    Best of Luck!

  8. Journey Man, the content of your blog verifies that you have something to share and to guide those who wish to follow that path to the skills/knowledge/ ass kicking capabilities.

    A great conundrum, perhaps almost a koan, for many is admitting that you are now a master/teacher etc. Too many use it as an opportunity to fake humility as a vehicle to earn respect (on a lie!) when the quandary relates too realising that you have developed significant skills with understanding and are at a level of those who you once marvelled, at least at the level they were when you deemed them worthy of respect (worship, adulation and often an array of dysfunctional kowtows) and acknowledging that the ones you consider masters now consider you in that league. Does you having the competence suddenly mean that those before you were not worthy and that the opinion of the "masters" who graded you holds no value?

    Please, this is not a commentary on you personally, just thoughts in general.

    Respecting the ones you hold in high esteem also means accepting them honouring you in return. This is the balance and keeping the balance in check assists in controlling the ego - a trait of a teacher/master.

    It's really early in the morning so I hope that this makes sense and not just the ramblings of a short, bald Aussie.

  9. Yamabushi,

    I just read your post and I'll be checking out the associated blog. I enjoyed your post. Thank you very much for the compliment as well. I do want to perpetuate the art, or at least my bumbling interpretation of it. There are areas I would focus on that I feel often are not stressed enough in the martial arts (in general). Thanks again.


    First off, thanks for the kind words. It's nice to know my ramblings resonate with readers on some level.

    Reflecting on your comments (and others), a few things come to mind. First, I do not consider myself a master by any means. I am, first and foremost, a journeyman in the arts. The thing is, I still marvel at many of those who I once marveled. You are right that if some of them acknowledge some of my skill set, that's a pretty great thing. My struggle is with the fact that while I am confident in some areas, I still feel I pale in comparison to my Sensei. To consider myself in any way on his level (as a teacher) seems a little wrong. I will continue to be his student as long as he'll have me. Perhaps it need not be about my entire arsenal, but about being able to share a certain area or skill set with others. Lots to think about. Thanks so much for the comments, regardless of the hour you posted them...

  10. Sue,

    Your last comment came in out of order. Not sure what's going on with the blog comments. Fear not, I did not take any offense whatsoever. I just wanted to make it clear I wasn't searching for comments to stroke my ego. No foot in mouth occurred.

    It's hard to imagine my Sensei with lingering doubts but I'm sure you're correct. Heck, maybe I'll ask him about it.

    Your comments, as always, make me think and often make me chuckle so thanks. Cheers!